Federal judge says 'plausible' that university parking tickets are not education records under FERPA

A federal judge in Oklahoma City refused Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit seeking access to parking tickets issued by the University of Oklahoma. Chief Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange said that at this point in the litigation, it's "plausible that parking citations and vehicle registrations are not educational records as defined by FERPA, and therefore, are subject to the (Oklahoma Open Records Act)."

OU journalism student Joey Stipek filed the lawsuit in May 2013 seeking electronic copies of vehicle registrations and parking citations issued to students in the spring 2012 semester.

OU officials claimed the information is confidential under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. OU and Oklahoma State University officials have made that claim for years even though courts in other states have ruled otherwise.

Miles-LaGrange said Stipek's lawsuit "contains sufficient factual matter for the Court to plausibly believe that (OU) is required to make available the requested records pursuant to the OORA."

Stipek had filed his lawsuit in Cleveland County District Court. But the university moved it to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss it.

Stipek, in a recent article for The Oklahoma Daily, noted that OU, OSU, and the University of Central Oklahoma cited FERPA for refusing to release the names of students issued parking tickets, saying their names are educational records.

But Oklahoma City Community College made its student parking tickets available for inspection, he said.

"Parking tickets provide a $2 million-revenue stream to Oklahoma’s four largest colleges and universities," wrote Stipek, "but so far it’s been impossible to learn which students are getting those tickets, how much each of them are paying in fines and whether any students are getting preferential treatment at three of those schools."

Stipek is being represented pro bono by attorneys Nicholas Harrison, an OU alumnus based in Washington D.C., and Kevin Taylor, based in Oklahoma City.

Harrison received FOI Oklahoma’s 2012 Ben Blackstock Award because of his reporting for The Oklahoma Daily as a University of Oklahoma law school student.


Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.